Basic Elements of a CV to Get a Job Offer

Let’s start with the basics. So, once again, the purpose of your CV is to get you an interview, not a job. This means that you need to impress your potential employers and make them interested. This module talks about the elements CVs contain. 

Please note that not all CVs contain these elements: some are compulsory and some are optional. You only add them if you do not have much else to add. This usually happens if you are writing a skills-based CV and have too much information to make it one page long but not quite enough for two pages. 

However, most of these elements appear both on experience-based CVs and on skills-based ones. Please also remember that you will need to write a CV in response to a job advertisement. These usually contain two documents: the job description and the person specification. Sometimes these two documents are combined into one.

The job description usually contains a list of tasks and responsibilities that the job will involve; the person specification contains a list of skills and qualities that an ideal candidate for that job should have. 

The contents of your CV will depend on the job description and person specification. Therefore, you cannot send the same CV for different jobs in different fields: you will need to change it, a little or a lot, for each of the jobs for which you apply. So, here are the main elements that CVs are made of, from the top to the bottom:

1. Your Name and Surname at the very top

Usually, they are written in a larger font. DO NOT write ‘Curriculum Vitae’ or ‘CV’ at the top of the document. Your potential employer knows that they are reading a CV. There is no need to tell them that.

About ten years ago, I was shown ‘an example of how not to do it’ – a three-page CV, the first page of which had the candidate’s name, surname and the words ‘Curriculum Vitae’ printed in large red letters. And when I say ‘large’, I mean two-inch high. This looked like it was written by a person who had no idea what a CV should look like and had never seen one before.

Nowadays, in the age of smartphones, information is literally at your fingertips. You just need to type ‘CV example’ into a search engine’s search bar and you will be given thousands of great templates according to which you can write your CV. 

You can also use the examples from this book as I am using examples from CVs written by me and people I know, and all these examples got me and those people interviewed.

2. Your contact details

These include your address and postcode, telephone number and email address.

3. Your Personal Profile

This section is optional. Some people are all for it; others advise against it. Usually, this section appears in skills-based CVs. I will write more about it in Module 5: Personal Profile.

4. Education

Here is your first chance to shine and stand out. 

5. Skills

Now, this is the meat of the CV. In a skills-based CV, the Skills section precedes the Work Experience section. In an experience-based CV, the Skills section is much smaller: it only contains ‘hard skills’ such as languages, numeracy and IT and comes after the Work Experience section.

There is a range of skills that you can present, depending on the places where you’ve worked and the tasks you’ve performed. However, the main sets of skills are:

  • Communication (spoken and written); this includes writing and presentation skills;
  • Commercial awareness (knowing how businesses operate);
  • Customer Service;
  • Teamwork (all about cooperation and helping others);
  • Planning and Organising;
  • Motivation and Working on your own initiative;
  • Information Technology and Computer Literacy (including internet-based research skills);
  • Numeracy;
  • Languages;
  • Leadership – this one deserves a separate discussion and I will address this skill in Module 8. In short, a leader is not just someone who knows how to manage a team of people. A leader is someone who is able to spot a problem before anyone else does, and takes the necessary steps to solve it.
  • Willingness to Learn. Most of these skills will be on your CV (again, depending on the job description), and they will also be accompanied by specific examples and evidence demonstrating that you, indeed, possess them.

6. Work Experience

You don’t even need a job to build a great CV because it is enough to be socially active at university. However, if you do have a job or have had one in the past, either paid or unpaid, everything counts. Just mention the job title, the place of work, and the dates when you worked there. Your Skills section will tell your potential employer everything else.

7. Interests

This section is also optional – only include it if you have space. The most important thing is that your interests must be related to the job you’re going to do. See Module 8: The Interests Section of Your CV for more information.

8. References available on request

This is another optional section. Some recruiters even advise against adding this sentence at the end of your CV because they see it as something to fill the blank space. It is much more useful to add a link to your professional blog if you have one.

9. A link to your LinkedIn profile

In case you are not aware of it, LinkedIn is a social media site for professionals. Think of it as Facebook for working people. Most of the updates, shared items and messages on that site are work-related. It is probably the best way to store your CV online. 

Unlike in a traditional CV, the space in which you write about your education and work experience is unlimited, so you can have a really well-rounded online profile.

10. Cover Letter

A lot of jobs nowadays do not require you to send a CV. Instead, you need to fill out an application form. This is especially the case with university jobs (not only for teaching and research but also for administrative and secretarial positions).  However, the rules that apply to writing CVs also apply to application forms. 

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Companies post jobs on their websites or through employment agencies, but FlexJobs screens each posting by hand before listing them.

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